Bosnian ethnic factions find formula for government

 

BOSNIA’S ETHNICALLY divided political parties have finally agreed to form a new government, after 14 months of deadlock that halted the country’s stumbling progress towards eventual membership of the European Union.

In an unexpected flurry of compromise, leaders of the country’s Muslim, Serb and Croat parties also agreed on budgetary questions and laws on holding a census and on the handling of state aid that the EU says are essential to Bosnia’s hopes of joining the bloc.

“We have reached an agreement on the composition of the government . . . None of us are totally happy but it is a good agreement made in the interest of Bosnia, its communities and its citizens,” said Sulejman Tihic, the leader of a major Muslim party.

The breakthrough was reached after several hours of talks yesterday, and many months of cajoling from the EU and United States, which said it was imperative that Bosnia find a way out of its worst crisis since the 1992-1995 war that killed about 100,000 people. It was finally agreed the new prime minister would come from the large Bosnian Croat party led by Dragan Covic.

“We have created conditions to nominate as soon as a prime minister-designate,” Mr Covic said. “The agreement shows the level of confidence we have established among ourselves. We believe this is the path to follow to try to stabilise the economic and political situation in Bosnia.”

The International Monetary Fund halted much-needed aid to Bosnia and the European Commission froze €100 million due to the impasse. The creation of a new government and agreement on a broad financial plan for 2012-2014 could unlock those funds.

“It is important that we reached a political agreement . . . so that Bosnia can apply for candidate status of the European Union,” said Milorad Dodik, whose party of hardline Bosnian Serb nationalists is often blamed for blocking reforms aimed at breaking down ethnic divisions.

Mr Dodik and many Bosnian Serbs oppose efforts to strengthen federal institutions in Sarajevo at the expense of the “entities” formed after the war: the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Serb-run Republika Srpska. He has even threatened to seek independence rather than see Republika Srpska weakened. Many Serbs fear being ruled by their wartime enemies, Bosnia’s majority Muslims.